Parenting is hard, but marriage, for us, somehow just came naturally. So I wrote him a poem.Read More
"Lift with your legs, not with your back!" I hollered to my husband as he drove off down the rode, the truck loaded with our three sons and a mountain of work tools. He gave a wave from the open window, as the sound of boyish laughter added a living harmony to the melody of U2 pumping out of speakers. "Good thing we don't have neighbors close by," I thought as they rambled away noisily. The early morning air stung my nostrils causing my eyes to prick with tears.
My husband is a hard worker. He sees a need and gets it done. Whether the need is chopping down a tree, fixing sprinkler heads, cleaning out the rain gutters of an elderly woman down the road, or heading out the door for an extended business trip, he's always going - always working. During the years with multiple babies in diapers this was difficult on me. For some reason, needs like baby baths, dishes, and tuck-ins didn't register as his job, and no matter how I tried to ask for help, he was out the door sweating in the sun or loading up his truck with an overnight bag for another business trip.
These were the days I felt abandoned and abused. Like a victim. Left alone to care for his children.
Our roles have always been clearly defined. Though it's all rather June Cleaver in a pencil skirt, it actually worked for us... that is until I was outnumbered by three strong-willed children, whose muscular tendencies took after their father. And I felt like the world was against me, my world was against me. I felt like a victim.
"I bring home the bacon, you fry it up." He liked to joke in his Ward Cleaver way.
Trouble is I can't seem to manage it like June. I'm still wearing the yoga pants I wore yesterday, slept in last night, and now they're speckled with grease stains as I stand at the stove frying up the bacon he brought home. Packing lunches, serving orange juice and muffins, laying out math sheets for the homeschooled kid who keeps me busy on school days. And my man's whistling as he takes a hot shower, shaves, straightens his tie, and slips the laptop into his briefcase. He heads out the door with a, "Love ya, Babe."
He does love me. He does.
And the truth is, in the quiet spaces of my life, when I'm not torn in multiple directions by multiple little people needing me all at once, I love him too. And I love the way he serves us. Though I often feel alone as I manage the ordinary needs and routines of family life, I really love what he does do. When I manage to step beyond the victim pool I tend to wade in each long day, I know instinctively that I'm attracted to his brand of busy. His sun bronzed arms, testify to the masculine strength that drew me to him in the first place. Our rose garden and lemon orchard always produce, and the boys sleep in the tree fort their daddy built them, back beside the garage that houses their camping gear and the big orange scout that makes us all laugh happy. There's always music playing when my man's around, whether he's listening to Third Day or crooning "Pretty Woman" as he strums the 12 string guitar beside our bed. Though it's more work for me, I love the way he's always inviting friends over for a Saturday afternoon bbq, or a dip in the pool after church. And the bills are paid.
His bible is on the coffee table even now as I type this missive of remembrance out. I'm remembering what I love about him. I'm speaking it to my own heart in the quiet of my house this morning - as he takes the boys early to serve a family in need. I'm remembering what is true.
Remembering what is true about our husbands is paramount in keeping the victim mentality in check. They are not perfect. They will not meet all of our needs or heal all of our hurts. But they will be the men we married. They will continue to be who they are, who we fell in love with, and even who they continue growing up and into - the good and the bad - the helpful and the hard - till death do us part.
All of that is true and what I am thinking on today.
I remember sitting in church as a single 20 year old woman. I went by myself most Sundays and sat near the front of the sanctuary. The pastor welcomed the congregation one morning and gave a few announcements, he then acknowledged an older couple in the church who were celebrating their 70th anniversary. Pastor Joel stepped down off of the platform and walked decisively to the frail woman standing just down the pew from where I sat. Her husband stood beside her, a hand resting protectively on her shoulder.
The pastor asked her directly, "Given the longevity of your marriage, what advice do you have for young married people today?"
She smiled and nodded, then said, "When this man here asked me to be his bride I went home and made a list of everything I didn't like about him." I laughed. We all did. Then she went on, "I took that list and looked it over good and asked myself, 'Well, knowing all this is true, do you still want to marry him?' To which I answered myself, 'Yes, I do.' So I folded that list up and put it in an envelope and tucked it away in my underwear drawer. It's still there, but I've never looked at it again. The point is, ladies, every time I find something about this man that I don't like very much I tell myself that it's on the list."
It's on the list.
There are plenty of things that are much harder than I knew they were going to be. Some of them are big and some of them are small. I thought my man was going to change diapers and get up during the night and help with dishes and rub the midnight growing pains from our sons' legs. But he doesn't do any of those things. I also thought he was going to lead me in Bible study before bed each night. He prefers laughing beside me over YouTube videos. I didn't know. I didn't know.
But I did know that I loved him. I loved his laugh and his strength and his masculine dreams. I loved his faithful, fierce commitment to friendship and his willingness to serve those in need. I loved his generosity too.
In the midst of it all I'm easily overwhelmed, it's true. It's true, it's true, it's true! But I also love this man of mine and the life we have together. And every hard thing, I tell myself, is written on that list in my underwear drawer.
We are moving toward the end of our series, "You are not a victim, you're a mom." You are welcome to start at the beginning, or sign up here for the upcoming conclusion. This theme has deeply ministered to my own heart as the words have poured through my fingertips. Thank you for letting me know that it's speaking to you too.
Hereby Grace Paley
Here I am in the garden laughing an old woman with heavy breasts and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen well that's who I wanted to be
at last a woman in the old style sitting stout thighs apart under a big skirt grandchild sliding on off my lap a pleasant summer perspiration
that's my old man across the yard he's talking to the meter reader he's telling him the world's sad story how electricity is oil or uranium and so forth I tell my grandsom run over to your grandpa ask him to sit beside me for a minute I am suddenly exhausted by my desire to kiss his sweet explaining lips
Today is our 14th wedding anniversary. 14 years of growing old together, only we're not really old. Not yet. Though we've three sun-drenched boys with sandy feet and hair all askew running through our house today. And I'm planning his fortieth birthday party. But I just know that I'm gong to blink and suddenly it will have all changed, and so will I.
And we'll be sitting together on the couch for his eightieth, reminiscing about when we were forty. And maybe we'll even recall with some clarity the years before, when we were really young.
The first 18 months were euphoric for us. While many newlyweds suffer tremendously in their early days of marriage, we were giddy! As an actress I had auditions and sporadic jobs, but most of my days were spent looking through bon apetite magazines, and coming up with fun menus or new ways to arrange the furniture. I grew an herb garden and made all sorts of flavorful sauces from scratch. When Matt came home he'd find the bbq fired up and his wife swimming naked in the pool.
Which may have had something to do with the babies boys born in quick succession. So much blue! Blue onsies and balls and even the baby blues that can shake a woman and a marriage. We were over the moon until we were overwhelmed. And we had to learn to love all over again as I cared for my children and he cared for us in other ways... like paying the bills and mowing the yard. But it was all caring, and we were busy and sometimes forgot to talk.
Life got messy at this point. I'm not referring to the spilled milk, or my painful attempts to nurse my newest baby. I'm not talking about the poop that found it's way out of diapers and onto the furniture... Life got messy because I couldn't seem to manage it all. The cooking, the laundry, the cleaning, the park dates, sleep deprivation, the trips to the doctor for baby number three... Needless to say, my sweet man and I ceased spending good time together.
Oh, we have been so blessed to have my mom and his take the children every now and then so that we can get away together, but in our day in and day out existence, we were simply surviving. And I began to miss him. Even as I write those words I sense the miracle of our experience. So many couples "grow apart" during these years with young ones underfoot, but we missed one another. Praise the Lord! Both of us longed for our friendship and the laughter, even when we were too tired or grumpy to delight in one another.
We are not quite out of the woods yet, but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One day soon I will have my man again by my side; not running to the left to grab one little hand as I run to the right to catch hold of another. But I don't want to push past where we are today.
I want to live "Here," in this moment, rather than wishing the days away. I know that when I get "there" at the end of my children's growing up years, I will have my man by my side 'til we're good and old; but I will miss their popsicle kisses, their declarations of love, and their promises to marry me. And so I purpose to live "Here" today, and find as many moments as I can along the way to taste tomorrow in my man's sweet kisses.
I could see her in my mind as I read her email:
"I'm typing this with one hand and one thumb, wondering if you could help me - I'm struggling as a mom and wife. To give a little context... Right this minute I'm holding in my arms my sweet 16 month boy. He's my only child. This is not how I'd prefer to do his daily 2 hour nap time, but here I am. I'm kind of struggling with parenting. This 2 hour naptime is one of many reasons I find myself desperately craving a break. I don't have family that supports us as we fumble through parenthood. We feel rather alone. But what's become hardest for me right now is the inequality of free time (personal time, me time) that my husband and I each get. He is able to take off for a whole day to do things like bike ride thru the countryside or go on a day long relay run with friends and out for dinner. While all that I can get is an hour or two to go to the store alone or clean house because I'm so very behind on taking care of things. I feel like God would probably want me to just let this issue of inequality of free time go - aren't we called as mothers to sacrifice more than our husbands? He has a job he loves and coworkers he enjoys. I guess I don't see how he could have a greater need for more free time than I do. Can you help me? How do I ask my husband for help?
This woman could have been me six years ago - only my 16 month old baby had two preschool aged brothers running around in their Thomas the Train underwear, dripping popsicles on the carpet and leaving facets running in every bathroom in the house. All the while I tried to get the baby back to sleep.
By the end of the day, with dinner finally on the stove, my husband walked in with a broad smile and a fresh haircut. All three boys yelled "daddy," then ran to him with enthusiasm, but all I saw was the haircut. He'd said he would be home early that afternoon, but obviously early meant he now had the time to stop for a haircut. I hadn't had a haircut in 16 months. I was out of moisturizing cream. I haven't been to the dentist in two years. But he stopped for a haircut.
All the scripture I'd hidden in my heart came rising up and rang in my ears, "Greater love hath no (woman) than this, that (she) lay down their life for (her family.)" It was my own translation of God's Word, as I resolved to serve selflessly at home. So I smiled back at my guy, pulled my tangled hair back in a bun, and pushed my needs down further still.
Except eventually, without fail, I'd break down crying - and it would ultimately all bubble up and out with hot tears in just the wrong way, at just the wrong time. And he'd feel attacked.
This was our cycle for many years. He worked hard all day and tried his best to be present when he got home. I worked hard at home, trying to not resent him for the casual way he still seemed to get all his needs met. As I did dishes and bathed kids and folded laundry, he'd tell me about which friend he was able to meet up with for lunch that day, or I'd find a movie ticket in his pants pocket as I started the eleventh load of wash.
We didn't learn to communicate well in those early parenting years. And it never felt like I could share my struggle with other women because their advice never settled right in my spirit.
"You need to tell him what you need! You should have more help. He needs to do this... You tell him that you want him to..."
So I retreated further into what I imagined Christian submission looked like, all the while pushing through resentment, muscling my way through bitterness, until the next time it all bubbled up and out again.
And then one Sunday, sitting on the patio at church while the children enjoyed a second hour of Sunday school, we decided to ditch our adult fellowship class and simply sit and talk. And I mean, we really talked. I wasn't crying and he didn't feel attacked. Truth be told, it sort of felt like a miracle, even the memory makes me tear up.
That Sunday was the beginning of something extraordinary. And every Sunday thereafter, for the next few months, we sat together on the patio hearing and healing.
Here are four practical things I learned as we sat together on the patio at church week after week:
1) GOD CARES ABOUT MY NEEDS - While God designed moms to sacrifice and "lay down their lives" for this intense season at home, He never intended for us to actually DIE! He is absolutely enamoured with moms. He loves us to the moon and back. We are the apple of His eye.
We are as much His children as our children are His children, and His love for us has no end. He came that we might have life, abundant and free. But He knows full well that mothering is hard, and wants us to have His help in the weary years with our young.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11)
There is nothing harsh nor demanding about God's love for mothers. He wants to gently lead us through our days and our trials. Sitting on the porch, my guy with a coffee and me with a sweet cup of chamomile tea, I began to learn this.
2) BELIEVE THAT YOUR HUSBAND WANTS TO HELP YOU - Early on in our marriage we coined the phrase "EXPECT THE BEST." I'll be honest with you - we both forgot a time or two in the busy years with babies, but we've always come back to this basic creed. EXPECT THE BEST.
Can I tell you something about your husband and mine? They never set out to take advantage of us. Your man didn't marry you with this hidden agenda of using you like a maid and a cook, a wet-nurse and a sex-toy. He took those vows seriously, and he still does. It's possible he simply doesn't know what to do right now. But he wants to. You know he'd take a bullet for you right? That's not elusive. But you and your needs... somehow that can be.
His vow was to love and support you, cherish and hold you, in good times and bad, during those precious honeymoon years, and these pressing ones with little people waking us multiple times through the night for months on end. He's tired. You're tired. But commit to believing that he has good intentions where you and the kids are concerned - even if you can't see them today, believe they are there.
3) CREATE A WEEKLY SAFE ZONE - Finding a safe block of time each week to address your challenges can be life altering! Knowing that I had that Sunday hour coming up gave me hope daily, because I knew that he would listen with ears purposed to hear my heart. I didn't explode because "Sunday was coming." That gave me great comfort.
Now I know that many of you don't have the finances or family nearby to make a date night feasible, but figuring out some way to create this time together each week is crucial. Maybe it's a Thursday night date night on the couch, or on the back porch under the stars. Something, anything, as long we it's safe and consistent time together.
4) ASK HIM FOR HELP - Sure, you knew this was coming, but there's a twist in my advice. Don't outright tell him how you want him to help you (Unless he's the kind of man who asks you to tell him exactly what you need.) Instead, try to remember that at the core of most men is a heart that wants to rescue and serve. Share with him what needs you have that are going unmet, then ask him to work with you to make a schedule that will allow you to get those core needs met. Engage him by asking for his opinion, not just his help.
I said something in this price-range:
"Sweetheart, my only time alone these days is when I run to the grocery store, and I always feel anxious when I'm gone, like I need to hurry back and start making dinner. I know that you don't want me to feel stressed, but I do. I cold really use your help to come up with a consistent schedule that wouldn't just give me more time for errands, but would allow me to fit more of the things I need and enjoy (without baby) back into our lives again. Work outs, friendship, my interests. I feel like I'm losing myself right now, and I need you to rescue me. Would you help me?
What do you say we look at your weekly calendar and figure out two times a week for me to get out to get things done. And maybe one Saturday a month when I can go to the hair salon or shopping with friends or just take a walk on the beach or whatever. Maybe I should choose a weekday every few months so I can get to the dentist and the doctor and that stuff. Do you think I should hire a babysitter for those days since you have work? What do you think? Do you have any other ideas?
As the weeks go by, my guess is that your husband will see how basic yet crucial your needs really are - and as your joy begins to wax and your resentment begins to wane he will likely suggest more ways to communicate his love to you. "You know, we really do need to have some date nights that aren't at home. Would you set up a babysitter so I can take you out."
It might not go as smoothly as I'm painting the picture here, but it's a start - a good, safe, healthy place to begin. So take a deep breath and remember that you are loved by God, that He never intended you to actually lay down your life to the point of death during these mothering years. Remember also that you are loved by your husband too, and that communication is possible. So find a safe time and place, ask him for his help, and expect the best.
With much love and respect for all you do,
The Spit-Up Covered Glory of Each Day
Hormones swinging out, then chasing right back in; Each baby brings with him this offering. Emotions climb up high, then calm back down, Our newborn cries, we nurse, but dare not drown.
But sometimes we do, and then wipe our eyes Blow our nose, and go turn off the house lights Succumb to sleep, two hours at a time Waking to sing one. more. time. "baby mine."
A new day starts, then twelve more pass at once Did I shower or ever stop for lunch? How can I be so elated and sad? Those hormones, sleep, and food would make me glad.
But sometimes they don't, 'cause sometimes they can't. Today blends with tomorrow in a rant About the ugly and the true. But O! O, O, O! Let us breath and know, know, know,
The spit up covered glory of each day. Sweet pea scented, baby powder dusted, glorious reflection of swaddled grace Turned up to receive our love, face to face.
And sometimes we do stop, to smell the truth. The roses, posies, sweet pea scented truth Of love, tucked deep in the baby wrinkles Where tears of joy and exhaustion mingle.
How many times did I fall asleep nursing my newborn in the gliding chair there in the nursery? Waking with a kink in my neck and a baby covered in milk. It was all so messy and delicious. And in the night, when I'd awake and nurse my child again, I often asked the Lord "How should I pray?"
"One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us how to pray..." - Luke 11:1
The Lord's prayer spilled like water into wine from his lips, and found it's way into The Word. We read it there, memorizing lines and praying them in rote. But only when we slow down to savor each word, do we get the simple beauty of prayer. Mothers, wives, grandma's with a laundry list of requests for your laundry list of loved ones... “When you pray, say: “‘Father..."
Nursing in the middle of the night, packing lunches before the dawning of a new day, spending hours on the floor with puzzles and legos and crayons, "Father, Your Name is Holy."
The music plays loud from my third born's room, "Build your kingdom here" and I whisper the words heavenward, "Your kingdom come."
Beside the rocker, during those early days, was my bible, my daily bread, and beside that bread lay my journal. I recorded prayers and scriptures and the last time I fed my son and which side I nursed him on. I chronicled it all, including confessions. "Forgive me my sins." I prayed through every line, in different ways, every day, without ceasing.
Even the first verses I committed to memory as a new mom were listed there:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He taught us to pray, and we do, but sometimes we forget how much like a conversation it can flow throughout our days, throughout our sleep-deprived nights. And sometimes we forget to ask, for our loved ones and for ourselves, and His Word reminds us how. But life is busy chasing children and cleaning house, until we stop and read it further down the page:
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
There is so much to a woman's prayer life. From the simple act of recognizing that He is God, to the bold entrance we can make through the front door of His Grace, making requests and clapping our hands in faith. It's all too much for me to understand. Which is why I'm blown over with gratitude when other women record their scripture prayers for the rest of us to lift as our own. Have you done that? Read through a book, like Stormie O'Martian's "The Power of a Praying Parent", or the new, heart-reviving prayers in Erika Dawson's collection, "Pray Truth: Praying God's Word for My Husband's Heart"? At the end of the book I sometimes start immediately over, because they've led me to the footstool and shown me how to pray again.
It is easy to forget to pray, but O there are women who remind us how...
"Dear Lord, You are Holy over our sleepless nights and poured-out, spit-up crusted days and taxed marriages and full hearts. Build Your kingdom here in our home and in our family relationships, as you've purposed them in Heaven. Forgive us when we are selfish in our exhaustion, and in your forgiveness remind us to forgive others. Lead us into right choices, even when we feel the pull of temptation strong. Hem us in, Lord. Hem us in. And then be sure, Father, to take all the glory for your own self. For it is yours entirely. And I am tired and ready now for bed. Go before me into the next day, and teach me again, fresh in the morning, how to pray. Amen."